In Stereo EP
When Cartel vocalist Will Pugh sings, “I had a plan to start a band/But now it’s falling apart,” on the title track of his band’s fifth studio release, it’s hard not to feel a bit sympathetic. True, Cartel have seen their share of self-inflicted hardships over the years (the MTV “Band In A Bubble” debacle); but just when it seemed like the Georgia group (now a quartet) finally found some steady footing with Wind-Up Records, label politics and restructuring left them homeless once again. It turns out that might have been the best thing for the band.
In Stereo largely eschews the pop-rock-on-steroids sound of 2009’s Cycles, instead placing the band back in a familiar setting. These five songs are far more organic than anything Cartel have released in half a decade, likely the effect of the disc’s self-produced nature. There’s a palpable energy on “Lessons In Love” and “Something To Believe” that calls to mind the urgency of The Ransom EP and Chroma—a fire that the band’s past two full-lengths sorely lacked. It’s a welcome change of pace and perhaps showcases a new fire ignited under the band, thanks to their newfound independence and ability to make music on their own terms.
While it’s clear the disc’s DIY production has returned a spark to the band, it also exposes a few shortcomings: namely, a distracting static hiss that bookends “Conduit” and a seemingly out-of-time guitar line which mars “Something To Believe.” Still, these imperfections are minor and don’t really detract from the songs. In all, In Stereo is proof that Cartel should be just fine on their own, and that after a stretch that’s seen incredible highs and near-career destroying lows, the group finally have some stability.